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The Honolulu Advertiser

Posted on: Wednesday, June 1, 2005

Waialua, where 35-year coaching odyssey began

By Ferd Lewis
Advertiser Columnist

Thirty-two years ago, when he put Waialua High in his rear view mirror, Norm Chow's plan had been to return to high school sports here one day.

If not for the Bulldogs, for whom he had been a head football coach at the tender age of 24, then perhaps at his alma mater, Punahou School. Or, when he finished the Ph.D he was about to embark upon, maybe as an administrator.

Today, on the way to a family vacation outing on the North Shore, the 59-year-old Chow plans to stop and see some old friends out Waialua way, and it would be hard not to flash back on the twists of fate and the curious path that have made him the first coach of Asian ancestry in the NFL.

These days the closest the Tennessee Titans' offensive coordinator and holder of a doctorate in education gets to his once-upon-a-time career is as the keynote speaker for Sunday's Nissan Hawai'i High School Hall of Honor banquet at the Sheraton Waikiki, which will also recognize two coaches from his era, Wai'anae's Larry Ginoza and Iolani's Eddie Hamada.

Chow, who may be the most celebrated football coach to come out of the state, seems as surprised as anyone by the remarkable turn of events and the CEO-sized $900,000 paycheck he now commands.

After a 5-25 record in three seasons at Waialua, who would have imagined it? Not Chow, who maintains, "I had no idea of even becoming a college coach, none. I had actually taken a leave of absence — I had not worked long enough in the DOE to take a sabbatical — to finish my degree and so that my wife (Diane) could go back (to Utah) to visit her dad who was ill at the time."

To help pay the bills, Chow took on a graduate assistant position at Brigham Young University, where one year stretched into more than a quarter century in Provo and a reputation for working with quarterbacks and offenses grew to national proportions.

Between stops at BYU, North Carolina State and Southern California have come three national championships, three Heisman Trophy winners and 15 offensive top 10 finishes in the last 21 seasons.

Denied the college head coaching job he'd wanted most, Stanford, and departing USC, where the perception was that his success had threatened head coach Pete Carroll, Chow is four months into the biggest challenge of his 35-year coaching career.

"Obviously, in this business that's the highest level but I had not thought much about the NFL," Chow said. "But it is different as time wears on. You get a little older, the kids move out and you want new challenges."

And, in his case, you remember something your late father, Warren, said to you many years before.

"He always told me that one of the things he regretted was not reaching out a little more and going for it," Chow said. "Of course, he was concerned about his family and making sure everybody got fed, but I never forgot that."

Reach Ferd Lewis at flewis@honoluluadvertiser.com or 525-8044.